United States District Court, D. Nevada
REPORT & RECOMMENDATION
FERENBACH, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
matter involves Plaintiff Robyn Williams' appeal from the
Commissioner's final decision denying Williams'
social security benefits. Before the Court is Williams'
Motion for Reversal and/or Remand (ECF No. 15) and the
Commissioner's Cross-Motion to Affirm (ECF No. 21). For
the reasons stated below, the Court recommends denying
Williams' motion to reverse or remand and granting the
Commissioner's motion to affirm.
Fifth Amendment prohibits the government from depriving
persons of property without due process of law. U.S. Const.
amend. V. Social security claimants have a constitutionally
protected property interest in social security benefits.
Mathews v. Eldridge, 424 U.S. 319 (1976);
Gonzalez v. Sullivan, 914 F.2d 1197, 1203 (9th Cir.
1990). Where, as here, the Commissioner of Social Security
renders a final decision denying a claimant's benefits,
the Social Security Act authorizes the District Court to
review the Commissioner's decision. See 42
U.S.C. § 405(g); see also 28 U.S.C. §
636(b) (permitting the District Court to refer matters to a
U.S. Magistrate Judge).
District Court's review is limited. Brown-Hunter v.
Colvin, 806 F.3d 487, 492 (9th Cir. 2015) (“[I]t
is usually better to minimize the opportunity for reviewing
courts to substitute their discretion for that of the
agency.” (quoting Treichler v. Comm'r of Soc.
Sec. Admin., 775 F.3d 1090, 1098 (9th Cir. 2014))). The
Court examines the Commissioner's decision to determine
whether (1) the Commissioner applied the correct legal
standards and (2) the decision is supported by
“substantial evidence.” Batson v. Comm'r
of Soc. Sec. Admin., 359 F.3d 1190, 1193 (9th Cir.
2004). Substantial evidence is defined as “more than a
mere scintilla” of evidence. Richardson v.
Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971); Andrews v.
Shalala, 53 F.3d 1035, 1039 (9th Cir. 1995). This means
such relevant “evidence as a reasonable mind might
accept as adequate to support a conclusion.”
Consolidated Edison Co. v. NLRB, 305 U.S. 197
(1938); Gutierrez v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 740
F.3d 519, 523 (9th Cir. 2014).
evidence supports more than one interpretation, the Court
must uphold the Commissioner's interpretation. Burch
v. Barnhart, 400 F.3d 676, 679 (9th Cir. 2005). This
means that the Commissioner's decision will be upheld if
it has any support in the record. See, e.g.,
Bowling v. Shalala, 36 F.3d 431, 434 (5th Cir. 1988)
(stating that the court may not reweigh evidence, try the
case de novo, or overturn the Commissioner's
decision if the evidence preponderates against it).
case, the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”)
followed the five-step sequential evaluation process in 20
C.F.R. § 404.1520. The ALJ concluded Williams did not
engage in substantial gainful activity during the relevant
timeframe. (ECF No. 14-1 at 18). The ALJ found Williams
suffered from medically determinable severe impairments
consisting of degenerative disc disease, lower extremity
impairment, arthritis, and depression, but the impairments
did not meet or equal any listed impairment under 20 C.F.R.
Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. (Id.). The ALJ
concluded Williams retained the residual functional capacity
to perform light work “in that the claimant is able
to…stand and/or walk 6 hours in an 8-hour workday, and
sit 6 hours in an 8-hour workday all with normal breaks.
… The Claimant takes medication for relief of her
symptomatology; the use of medication will not preclude work
at the sedentary and light exertion levels.”
(Id. at 20). A vocational expert testified that an
individual with these limitations could perform the work of a
receptionist, administrative clerk, claims clerk, insurance
customer service clerk, and title clerk. (Id. at
24). The ALJ found that Williams was not under a disability
as defined in the Social Security Act. (Id.).
challenges the ALJ's assessment on a single ground.
Williams argues the ALJ improperly discounted Williams'
pain and symptom testimony. (ECF No. 15 at 5-10). The
Commissioner argues the ALJ properly evaluated Williams'
credibility and “provided specific, well-supported
reasons for rejecting Plaintiff's allegations.”
(ECF No. 21 at 4-14).
the hearing before the ALJ, Williams testified that her back
surgery in March 2014 alleviated her pain for a time, but the
pain has been returning “little by little” and
she is now worse off than before the surgery. (ECF No. 14-1
at 40). She cannot function without pain medication, and the
medication makes her feel “like a zombie.”
(Id. at 41). She can sit for 10-15 minutes at a time
before needing to walk around, and she lies down “off
and on all day” to relieve the pain. (Id. at
44-46). She could not perform work similar to a receptionist
because her “brain wouldn't be on [her] job.
It's on the pain constantly. … And [she] could not
take that medication while [she] was at work.”
(Id. at 47).
found that while “claimant's medically determinable
impairments could reasonably be expected to cause the alleged
symptoms…the claimant's statements concerning the
intensity, persistence and limiting effects of the symptoms
are not entirely credible for the reasons explained in this
decision.” (ECF No. 14-1 at 21). The ALJ cited several
medical records indicating Williams could perform light work,
including the opinions of non-examining State agency
physicians Dr. Rosenstock and Dr. Rehman. (Id. at
21-23). The ALJ also noted that “claimant's work
history does not lend great support to her claim for
disability” because the gaps in employment and
“pattern of short-term employment”
“suggests a disinclination [to] work.”
(Id. at 23-24). The ALJ also found that
Williams' references to side effects from the medication
during the hearing weighed against her credibility, because
there were no complaints of side effects in Williams'
medical records. (Id. at 24).
asserts that none of these grounds are sufficient to
discredit her testimony. Williams argues Dr. Rosenstock and
Dr. Rehman's opinions should not have weighed against her
credibility because the opinions were rendered before the
March 2014 back surgery. (ECF No. 15 at 8). Williams also
asserts the ALJ should have given Williams a chance to
explain any perceived inconsistencies in her work history
before assuming Williams is ...